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Justices Pass on Internet Obscenity Case

March 20,2006 | WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court turned back an appeal on Monday from a photographer who claimed a federal decency law violated her free-speech rights to post pictures of sadomasochistic sexual behavior on the Web.

Justices affirmed a decision last year by a special three-judge federal panel upholding the 1996 law which makes it a crime to send obscenity over the Internet to children.

The court could have used the case to set online obscenity standards. The subject of children and indecency has gotten more attention recently.

Last week the government renewed its crackdown on indecent television by proposing nearly $4 million in fines for controversial broadcasts.

The Supreme Court appeal was brought by photographer Barbara Nitke, whose work is featured in the book "Kiss of Fire: A Romantic View of Sadomasochism," and by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom.

Material that is obscene is not protected by the First Amendment, but Nitke's lawyer contends her work is art that is not obscene.

Justices were told by attorney John Wirenius of New York that if they turned down the case, "many more Internet users will likely face the constitutionally unsupportable choice faced by Ms. Nitke: either to censor her published images or risk prosecution."

The law requires that those sending obscene communications on the Internet take reasonable actions to keep it away from children, like requiring a credit card, debit account or adult access code as proof of age.

The Bush administration had urged justices to stay out of the case.

The case is Nitke v. Gonzales, 05-526